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Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Controversial View of Immigration Policy...

Swiss immigration policies spark international debate, and provide an example of what it looks like to enforce immigration laws.

Switzerland’s People’s Party has been referred to by ABC News as “evoking Nazi-era practices” with their new plan to deport immigrants who commit violent or drug related crimes, the BBC has published headlines suggesting that the Swiss citizenship system may be “racist”, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has criticized their strict documentation requirements for incoming refugees. The Muslim world is outraged at restrictions on minarets, and at strict language proficiency requirements for citizenship, but beneath all of the bad publicity, Switzerland has some of the highest personal income levels in the world.

They also have a pristinely beautiful country, extremely low crime rates (compared to other states in the region), and a true representative democracy with the ability for any citizen to make a real change in government (if he can gather 100,000 like minded individuals). Their children score 4th in the world at standardized testing, above all other European countries and the United States. They have low levels of mental and chronic illnesses as compared to other industrialized countries, and citizens tend to be extremely involved with their local governments. Obviously, this society is doing something right, and far from trying to ban immigration completely, they have made traveling and living in Switzerland extremely easy for European Union citizens, despite the fact that they have chosen not to be a full fledged member themselves.

Local governments spend millions each year for language classes for immigrants, and potential citizens have twelve mandatory years of residency before they can even apply for citizenship, that allow them to adapt and become a productive part of Swiss society. Keeping all of this in mind, why is the international community so upset that criminals and people unwilling (not unable, merely unwilling) to become gainfully employed are not allowed to be Swiss citizens? It may be that there is something that the United States can learn from this.

The United States of America is currently inundated will illegal immigrants who are completely unwilling to abide by the legal system that is partially responsible for the security and economic opportunity they want for themselves. It is ridiculous to me that an illegal immigrant whose very existence in this country is a violation of law could claim that they have rights under that same law. In examining Swiss immigration policies and the public outrage surrounding them, one begins to wonder if they have the right idea.

No, it doesn’t make sense from a human rights standpoint to force whole families out of the country for a single individual’s actions, but what exactly is wrong with requiring a person to speak a countries native language (and therefore be a productive citizen) in order to become a citizen of that country? It is true that taking a popular vote of the community before allowing a person citizenship could allow racist tendencies among the people, but why is it wrong to stop a known criminal from becoming a citizen? I believe that the international community needs to keep this issue in perspective. Citizenship for immigrants in any country is a privilege, not a right.

You would find it difficult to become a citizen of Iran, or Yemen, but you don’t hear outrage at their immigration policies. The reason is, we as the international community don’t feel that it is wrong to deny someone the right to live under a totalitarian regime, or in a country with a meager economy. It is time that critics of strict immigration laws consider why countries like Switzerland are so strong economically and in many other social aspects. They have high standards for their educational, political, and healthcare systems, which partially account for their prosperity and freedom as a society. Why would we ask them to compromise their success? If successful, developed countries are forced to allow criminals and people unwilling to culturally integrate themselves to become citizens, their economy, government, and justice system will ultimately be bogged down by the extra burden. In effect, this type of leniency could destroy the system these immigrants so desperately want to enjoy.

On the other hand, there is certainly a moral imperative for industrialized countries to help less developed countries. I am not suggesting that refugees be left to wander between tent cities. I am not even suggesting that we stop legal immigration. (in fact, I am also not suggesting that I have all the answers!) I am merely asking for potential immigrants to have the most basic level of respect for the societies whose protection they seek - abiding by its laws.

Yes, some of the Swiss policies have gone too far, especially when it comes to punishing families for their relatives’ mistakes. And, yes, part of the the purpose of having more than one branch of government is to prevent personal prejudices from entering into important pubic decisions (having communities vote on immigrants may be somewhat unfair), but to force Switzerland to accept criminals, and those unwilling to learn their language as citizens would profoundly affect their social order; ultimately to the detriment of their success.

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